Aisha, Hen & Chickens

In the opening scene, the titular character’s no-holds-barred description of her life as the forced wife of a man three times her age leaves the audience of Aisha in stunned shock. This intelligent, promising 17-year-old tells her story in the manner of a heroine in a Shakespearean tragedy, visibly battling to speak in beautiful, poetic language in her psychologically-bruised state. When we meet her husband, he is unquestionably the tyrant she describes and we watch awkwardly as she recoils and retches every time he moves. What a horrible life Aisha has.

Further into the play, we see her husband at his most extreme: punishing her brutally for a minor infraction. It is an awful scene to watch and played for maximum psychological effect but it was too much for one audience member. I can see why he walked out, but in context, it was not gratuitous. It was also necessary for understanding more fully what was to come.

This play is told very much from the perspective of Aisha, and much of the time the other characters feel less well-rounded than she is. We only see snatches of their personalities and we don’t necessarily understand their motivations or what’s really going on. The punishment scene and the scenes which follow it, where several of the husband’s friends come to the house for various purposes, put the brutality into context whilst in no way excusing it. It also allows the writer, AJ, to comment on African culture, child marriage, the true nature of racial integration in Britain, men’s attitudes to women, male friendship, excessive drinking and the way in which we all turn a blind eye.

But if you think this is an “issue play”, unsubtly dishing up a series of stock characters and wooden exchanges, it isn’t. It is about issues, lots of them, but it’s well written and engrossing, and even manages to be funny in parts.

Lloyd Morris is the closest we get to light relief, and he gives an excellent performance as the Brexit-supporting, drunken misogynist Mr White. When we meet him, he seems like a decent man, but Aisha pulls us up on that. We thought he wasn’t as bad as her husband because he’s white? Sadly, he is.

The star of this show is Laura Adebisi as Aisha, who gives a detailed, jaw-dropping performance. Unbelievably, Adebisi is only in her second year of English and Drama degree – we’ll be seeing much more of her in the future.

At the end of this play, it looks like there’s hope of a better life for Aisha. But it also becomes clear what she had to do to get out of her situation. Neither Mr White, nor healthcare professionals, or the authorities, or anyone else helped her. This play is about how we all turn a blind eye to what’s really going on and that this has consequences.

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